Just as we predicted last year, there is trouble brewing in the Thangjing range. Just as forest officials led by Principal Chief Conservator of Forests himself began a tree plantation drive in and around the Thangjing hill ranges the other day, Kuki Students Organisation (KSO) and some other hill based organisations came out and vehemently objected to it. In fact, the Forest department was responding to a fresh call by the Chief Minister N Biren Singh for taking up a tree plantation drive as a part of forest conservation efforts and to compensate for the loss of forest cover and bare mountain ranges in the state.
Last year, Chief Minister N Biren Singh came down heavily on the Forest department officials for the widespread deforestation in the sacred Koubru range. He had instructed forest officials to go and see for themselves the state of degradation and take up appropriate measures for rejuvenating forest cover in Koubru and other hill ranges for the sake of future generations and also appealed to the people inhabiting the general area to cooperate with forest officials.
Mountain forests perform a protective function against natural hazards, so that when the forest cover is lost and the land is left unprotected, runoff and soil erosion increase, provoking landslides, avalanches and floods, to the detriment of villages, transport systems, human infrastructures and of the food security of vulnerable populations. In Koubru range, government efforts were met with stiff opposition from Kuki groups claiming it as their turf where forest laws do not apply. We had predicted that similar claims would crop up in other areas also, including Thangjing hill range. And the organisations who tried to prevent the tree plantation drive in Thangjing tried to paint a communal angle to it by terming it as a sort of intrusion by valley based individuals and groups.
Both Koubru and Thangjing are very sacred to the valley population as it is interlinked with their creation theories and myths. Till today, a week after Cheiraoba (Manipur New Year), on the first Friday, people go on pilgrimages to the Koubru Peak, which is around 2,802 metres high. A special attraction at the peak is the sacred pond Lai Pukhree, a massive rectangular boulder and the cliff of the Koubru. In short, Mt Koubru is the epicentre of all mythology, tradition and belief of human creation on the Earth in the Manipuri world-view.
Which was exactly why the state government had announced its intent to declare an area measuring about two hectares at Koubru as a protected site under the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1976 in public interest. Likewise, the government also had announced its intent to declare another area in Mt Thangjing as a protected site under the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1976. This was also projected by Kuki groups as encroachment by valley people in their traditional land.
As we said before, there simply should not be such a thing as ‘ancestral or traditional land’ in a composite state like ours and anybody who flags such terms always has an ulterior agenda. They should rather be questioning themselves on what they have done so far for conservation and upkeep of the land they are claiming to own. Last year, Kuki groups blocked all entry points to the holy site of Mt Koubru and it took two days for the district administration and police to open up the siege and ensure free flow of pilgrims to the holy site. Now, Thangjing Lai Haraoba is going on full swing at Moirang and it should be the responsibility of the state that nothing unsavoury occurs in the general area of Thangjing as a result of the recent face-off between forest officials and Kuki groups.